Sports & Fitness

Popular sports in Italy

When it comes to sports, Italians take their passion to a new level. Find out which are the most popular and where you can catch the action.

Half-empty stadium in Rome, with in the middle, two players on a tennis court.
writer

Updated 15-5-2024

Italy has a rich tradition of sports excellence. It has certainly earned it a reputation as one of the top sporting nations in the world. While football remains the undefeated champion, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and cycling are popular too – along with a host of other games.

Here’s where to catch the action of the most popular sports:

DAZN

Wondering how to keep up with your favorite sports while living abroad? DAZN has you covered. With online and on-demand content, they offer a sport for everyone. Watch DAZN on your smart TV, smartphone, tablet, or games console and access top sporting events with a single subscription.

Overview of sports in Italy

Italy is a sporting powerhouse, with sports playing a significant role in Italian culture – and its economy. According to the Institute for Sports Credit (Istituto per il Credito Sportivo – ICS), the sports sector contributed around €24.5 billion (or 1.37%) to the country’s GDP in 2022.

Large Italian flag is flying in a crowd of supporters during a match between AS Roma and AC Milan.
Photo: Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Football or soccer, known as calcio, is immensely popular, with Serie A matches (the country’s top domestic league) drawing large crowds. On an international level, the men’s football team is one of the most successful teams in the World Cup.

La Squadra Azzura (The Blue Team, named for the uniforms) has won four titles (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006). By comparison, that is one more than Argentina, on the same level as Germany, and one less than Brazil.

Other popular team sports include basketball (pallacanestro), volleyball (pallavolo), rugby, and water polo (pallanuoto).

Italy has a strong tradition in individual sports as well. For example, the adrenaline-pumping Italian F1 Grand Prix at Monza is the world’s fifth-oldest national motor racing circuit, having been held since 1921. Likewise, the prominent Giro d’Italia cycling race captivates cycling enthusiasts worldwide.

Aside from mainstream sports, Italians enjoy traditional games like bocce (similar to British bowls and French pétanque) and calcio storico fiorentino (an early form of football). The country’s varied landscapes also provide great opportunities for outdoor activities like sailing (vela) and skiing (sci).

How to watch sports in Italy

Avid fans and armchair supporters have plenty of choice when it comes to watching sports in Italy. There are numerous sports bars and pubs across the country where you can watch your favorite team playing on large screens. If you’d rather stay indoors, you can also catch the latest game on Italian TV.

Great ways of watching sports in Italy include:

  • Cable or satellite TV – popular sports channels like Sky Italia and Eurosport showcase live broadcasts of sporting events, including soccer, basketball, and cycling races. Commentary is usually in Italian unless you’re watching an international broadcast.
  • Online streaming services – platforms such as DAZN and NOW TV offer live streams of sports events, as well as on-demand replays. You can also subscribe to a more specialized service, such as Volleyball TV, to watch only one particular sport.
  • Free-to-air TV – if you have an antenna or a digital TV receiver, you can catch the latest sporting events on channels like RAI or Mediaset Italia

It’s worth noting that the availability of sports events depends on the specific event and TV broadcaster rights. As such, it’s always recommended to check the schedule of events in advance.

Football or soccer

Football is by far the most beloved sport in Italy, so much so that it’s been linked to the country’s national identity. Popular events include Coppa Italia and Serie A, both typically taking place from July/August to May. Among the top men’s professional football clubs are Atalanta, AC Milan, Inter Milan (Internazionale Milano), Juventus, and Roma.

Large crowd of AC Roma supporters standing in the stands of a stadium.
Rome (Photo: Danilo Obradovic/Unsplash)

Women’s football has also gained popularity in recent years, with the number of registered players increasing. In the last decade, the Italian Football Federation (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio – FIGC), colloquially known as Federcalcio, has been promoting the sport among women and girls, reaching semi-positive results: between 2008 and 2019, the number of female players increased by almost 30%. 

One of the main reasons behind this growth is the success of the women’s national team, which has been among Europe’s top teams for years.

Basketball

Perhaps the second most loved sports in Italy is Basketball. The country’s national men’s team has a commendable track record in European and global competitions, earning respect on the international stage. 

Popular sporting events include the Serie A Basketball League (Lega Basket Serie A – LBA) and the Coppa Italia LNP. Women’s pro basketball is also gathering steam, with the national team ranking 15th in the world on the 2024 FIBA World Ranking Women index.

Italy’s basketball season usually runs from September/October to May.

Volleyball

With a dedicated following among Italians, Volleyball also holds a significant position in Italy’s sports landscape. Must-watch sporting events include Serie A1, Serie A2, Coppa Italia, and Supercoppa Italiana. Volleyball season often coincides with basketball season, with matches occuring between September/October and May.

The Serie A (Lega Pallavolo Serie A), the top professional volleyball league, hosts competitive matches nationwide. The national volleyball teams for men and women have garnered international acclaim, winning top spots in tournaments like the Olympic Games and World Championships.

Tennis

With numerous Grand Slam wins, Italy has produced some of the best tennis players in the world, particularly in women’s tennis. Top professional players include Matteo Berrettini, Fabio Fognini, Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Andreas Seppi, and Roberta Vinci.

A must-watch professional tennis events is the Italian Open, also known as the Rome Masters. This event takes place in May and is considered among the most prestigious stops on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour.

Cycling

Cycling is another sport that has a strong following in Italy. The country’s hilly terrain and stunning scenery make it an ideal destination for both professional athletes and amateur cyclists.

Professional cycling athletes competing in the 2024 Milano-Sanremo in Sanremo, Italy.
2024 Milano-Sanremo in Sanremo, Italy (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Popular races for professional cycling include the Giro d’AbruzzoGiro d’Italia, and Milano-Sanremo. Among amateur races (Gran Fondo), recommended events include the Maratona dles Dolomites in the Dolomites, Nove Colli in the municipality of Sogliano (on the Adriatic Coast), and Strade Bianche in Tuscany.

Currently, the best male cyclists to watch are Andrea Bagioli, Giulio Ciccone, and Filippo Ganna. Among women’s cycling, must-follow athletes are Elisa Balsamo, Chiara Consonni, and Silvia Persico.

Calcio storico

If you haven’t heard of calcio storico (fiorentino), you’re probably not alone. The local sport – part football (soccer), part rugby, and part hardcore wrestling – originated from 16th-century Florence and is still a well-liked game today.

The high-energy game is often played at Saint’s festivals in Florence in June.

Winter sports

While Italy is known for its sunny climate, it’s also a great place for winter sports (e.g., skiing and snowboarding). The country regularly wins Olympic Gold for alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and luge sledding.

Fans of winter sports should tune in to the 2026 Winter Olympics, which will take place in Milan (Milano) and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Where to find a local club in your area

Amateur players can find plenty of local sports clubs, associations, leagues, and courts across Italy. Some of these will offer summer camps, training sessions, and discounted rates for families and children, so it’s worth asking when you sign up.

You can find what’s available in your region by asking your friends and neighbors, or checking the local social media groups. Depending on the size of the city or town, the municipality might also have more information.